I'd been looking forward to this gig for a long time. Rockin' Dublin had advertised it from way back in January and when I saw Phil Haley & His Comments were playing, I immediately contacted Paul O'Neil on Facebook and bought my ticket. The funny thing was, I didn't realise there were other bands also playing that evening, or that it was to be an early start. Turns out we were in for a treat with The Slick Hicks and The Mee Kats also performing. I drove from Wexford, which took three hours - not bad at all as I was travelling from way down in the South East right up to the border with Northern Ireland. The venue was The Carrickdale Hotel and I'd booked a room there for the night which made everything really comfortable and easy going. The hotel was really beautiful. My so called single room was huge, really comfortable and extremely quiet, overlooking nice grounds. It's a big, purpose-built hotel in a lovely part of the world, very close to Carlingford Lough, which is beautiful. It's so easy to find too - right on the M1 Dublin/Belfast main road.
The room where the gig was taking place was really big with a beautiful, smooth wooden dance-floor and a good sized raised stage for the bands. There was a huge lobby as you enter the hotel and there were some vendors there selling 1950s dresses and trousers and other bits and bobs. I was delighted to see there were visitors from all over at this gig. Rockers came from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, as well as from all over Ireland. There was even one very nice French man there who I'd never met before and who had a very unique style of jiving.
The Slick Hicks from Dublin were on first. I recognized the lead vocalist/double bass player straight away - it was Mo (Maurice Hickey) who I'd met DJ-ing in Thomas House in Dublin. I was surprised as I didn't know he could sing or play double bass. Then there was Darragh Hughes (vocals/rhythm guitar); Johnny McGonagle (lead guitar); and 'Mocker the Rocker' (drums). The Slick Hicks are a Dublin band and they played us mostly faster Rockabilly music. They had a big stage presence and lots of energy. Jonny played some impressive guitar riffs during the session. For me, my impression of a band is very much linked to the song choices they play on the night. That really fast Rock 'n' Roll is OK for a while, but I think because they played for a very long time, and because the rhythm of most of the songs was, to my mind, pretty fast and similar to the preceding one, I found that towards the end of their set that one song was melding into the next. But I don't mean to criticise - far from it. They were excellent and I think everybody there really enjoyed them.
We had a lovely bit of DJ-ing in between bands from DJ Dominic (Dominic Mallon). He played us some super dance tracks including some really good jivers. I enjoyed his song choices. The Mee Kats came on next. I love to support my own sex and think it's just great to see a woman in a Rock 'n' Roll band. So many are a male only domain. The Mee Kats have the unusual combination of lead vocals/drummer in Colin Mee; vocals/lead guitar is Tom Blower; and vocals/double-bass is Mandy Mee. For a trio they sure make some noise. They were really good. I liked Colin's suit very much and he was delighted to let us know that Mandy had made it for him. She makes 1950s clothing herself and had a stall with men's trousers she had sewn herself in the lobby. A talented lady.
I felt Mandy & Colin connected very well with both the dancers and the audience. It was impossible not to like them. The band played us a good mix of jivers and strollers and, thank goodness, they put a good few strollers together so that we ladies were not up and down all the time as sometimes happens. Mandy liked our Chicago stroll, which she hadn't seen before. I always feel like I'm in an aerobics class doing that one, I must say, as it's so energetic and fast-moving. I enjoyed the Mee Kats very much.
When Phil Haley & His Comments started up, they brought the house down. Such a fantastic sound and I absolutely adore all the Bill Haley numbers. Such great tracks, such great jiving music. The band members are: Phil Turnbull (vocals/lead guitar); Martyn Savage (vocals/bass); Allan Murch (saxophone), and Gary Davidson (drums). They played all the greats - 'Shake, Rattle & Roll', 'Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie', 'Rip It Up'. They even played 'Rock Around The Clock' and made it sound as fresh as when it was new. This was the band I'd come to see. I'd seen them once previously at West Wales Rock 'n' Roll club and I was very impressed then too. These guys are so good and so talented. I actually think they're probably not as well appreciated as they should be. I say this because they're definitely not as popular as the big names in Rock 'n' Roll today. But to my mind, they're up there with the best I've ever heard.
But you know, again I'm well aware that song choice is crucial to the impression a band makes on me. I'm a dancer and these guys played most of my favourite jiving and strolling tunes. I suppose as well, they make a big impression because Bill Haley's band seems to me to have been an integral part of Rock 'n' Roll when it first exploded onto the world stage. I just love their good old traditional jivers. The whole sound was just awesome. I do love some brass as well, I think it adds that authentic 'big band' sound to the whole performance. Phil Haley did one or two Doo-Wop type numbers too, and some beautiful instrumental pieces.
One I particularly enjoyed, and which included some lovely harmonizing by these gents, was a tune they played towards the end of their session. It was more like a jingle actually. There was a lovely, catchy, instrumental part to it, then all four gents chimed in, in harmony, with - "a walk in the park, a walk in the zoo, we're taking the time, to entertain you" - and then more instruments only. It was gorgeous. If you want to hear it, it's posted for public viewing on The South East is Rocking Facebook page.
Sorry, I know I didn't give as much time or enthusiasm to The Slick Hicks or The Mee Kats. I can't help it. I just adore Phil Haley & His Comments. You should have seen how smartly dressed they were too - gorgeous blue tartan box jackets, all matching, and wearing really nice 1950s loose trousers. Just so classy. They finished up around 1:30am and then came down and mixed with us 'normal' folk. I was more than happy to buy their latest CD which I thoroughly enjoyed on the long drive home on Sunday. The whole experience was really enjoyable, from the lovely hotel to meeting lots of friends, from the party atmosphere to the wonderful music and dancing. What a fabulous weekend and what a great evening's entertainment. A huge success for the Rockin' Dublin team.